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Peter’s Totem

November 3, 2011

There once was a young oak that took root on top of a 570 million year old Precambrian rock face in the Muskokan region of North Ontario. Beneath the earth’s encrusted surface the oaks spiraling feeders faithfully reached over, under, and around the ancient rock, carved by the obstinate glaciers during the ice age. Above ground the trees breezy canopy grew into the sky, overlooking a picturesque lake filled basin below. It shared this view with a modern day house snugly built close to the tree’s base. Eventually a tug of war for the magnificent view ensued between the house and the tree. The oaks tenacious roots reeked havoc on the skeletal structure of the house. Perhaps it did so purposefully in an effort to nudge the structure from its coveted perch, however when push came to shove inevitability house won. In its quest to be mighty the innocent oak inadvertently lead itself towards its own demise by taking root in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There once was a young boy who dreamed to one day find his most articulate voice. Born to a family of extroverted personalities he balanced the scale through an introverted retraction to conduct his introspection. He was driven by the desire to express himself, as children do, but was stuck inside a culture impaired by and more rewarding towards those most verbose. Lacking the volume and vocabulary to compete, this boy grew into a man whose character remains, to this day, more easily defined by his actions than by his words.

Like the young oak, the young man grew up never loosing his persistent need to forge a living through quiet exploration. Surely one day his efforts would consummate into a worthy intonation of his own. Stumbling upon a common thread piercing through the hearts of many artisans, he strode backwards in time and found his future when he tripped over the trunk of the fallen oak. When these two silent halves collided into one, a crescendo began to rise and a new symphony of voices rang out.

Looking back, a frozen glazier carved out a basin of rock, which later became a foundation for a baby oak to take root and grow. When the oaks relatively short life was pushed over, it fell into the outstretched arms of an introverted man seeking his own vernacular expression. With mallets made of walnut and apple wood, he hammered the hungry chisels into the flesh of the fallen tree. Discovering flowing rivers of grain within, he carefully exposed the storied layers emitting from the oaks core. Many seasons passed until one day the vibrating sound of the ring-shaped waves came to rest inside a completed totem. Captured animals, frozen in time, symbolic and ready to stand and look forward.

The totem speaks of a man, with a tall hat, who curiously peaks out from the ground to gaze upon the world around him. Unknowingly, he balances land, sea, and air on top of his brim. Wrapped around the peak of the hat, a land dwelling frog crawls out of the mouth of an air born raven. Over the ravens crown leaps an ancient sea monster, flipping its curled tail as it circles downward into a deep-sea dive.

Upon completion the man returned to the same ancient rock and raised the totem within thirty feet from where its roots first begun. Once again the old tree in its new form looks upon the same picturesque lake-filled basis below. Four walls and a roof courtesy of the trees nemesis, the house, have replaced its protective bark. A part of its spiritual essence at least, has returned to its linguistic roots together with the man, who through it, found his most articulate voice.

The End.

Creative writing and romantic notions aside, the man I speak of in this story is Peter, my husband. The property where the oak tree came from belongs to my brother. Despite having never been formally trained in the arts, with the exception of one one-week course in totem pole carving three years ago, Peter approached this ambitious piece without hesitation. I am simply in awe of the sculpting voice he found from within. It took him two years to complete this totem and it stands nine feet tall.

This weekend we brought it back up to my brother’s property to display. It was such an exciting moment for Peter to finally be able to step back and see it standing for the first time in all its glory. For the last year he had to work on it in a small space, which never affordied him enough room to step back and properly assess his progress. The equivalent would be like trying to work on a drawing three inches away from your face. It did not disappoint and we could not deny the majestic attention the piece commanded. As for Peter, he remained his usual quiet self but there was no denying the muffled sound of his happily beating heart in disbelief over what he had just created.

Finally, it is important to note that part of the totem design (the tall hat, the frog, and the raven) was adapted from The Three Watchmen by acclaimed Canadian Haida artist Robert Davidson. Mr. Davidson, whose work Peter adores, was inadvertently his teacher for this particular journey.

Peter Aubreys Totem

Peter Aubreys Totem

Peter Aubreys Totem

Peter Aubreys Totem

© Dana Aubrey, Peter’s Totem

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